Remembering Justice Scalia . . . and Surveying the Terrain Ahead

February 22, 2016

In Joseph Pearce’s biography of G.K. Chesterton we are given an account of some of the reactions to the death of the great writer. T.H. White, who wrote The Sword in the Stone, entered his classroom and announced, “G.K. Chesterton died yesterday. P.G. Wodehouse is now the greatest living master of the English language.” Hugh Kingsmill shared the news of Chesterton’s death to his friend Hesketh Pearson through a closed bathroom door. In response, “he sent up a hollow groan which must have echoed that morning all over England.”

My response to the death of Antonin Scalia was similar. He was, in my mind and in the minds of many others, the single greatest jurist of the last several decades. In a time when it became increasingly popular to discover new rights in the Constitution, such as the right to privacy which has resulted in tens of millions of abortions in the United States, Scalia insisted that such fundamental questions had to be decided by the people if not directly answered by the text of our governing document. He recognized that there is nothing about going to law school, not even a very good one, that turns a person into an exceptionally wise man or woman to whom all other judgments of morality must defer.

Justice Scalia is celebrated and remembered as a defender of the text and original meaning of the Constitution. He would find no new rights lurking in the “emanations and penumbras” of the clearly stated law, as Roe did. He would not turn the 14th Amendment into a lever to redefine marriage in the face of thousands of years of human history. At the same time, he did not believe the Constitution allowed him to translate his own preferences into law. Justice Scalia was dedicated to what he viewed as a judge’s work, which is not the same as the job a legislator does. Supreme Court judges interpret the Constitution. They do not have the power to effectively amend it with a mere majority vote when the document itself demands a much more arduous process for those who would wish to change it.

What all of this means is that the jurist was ultimately a champion for self-government. He believed that it is the task of the citizen to participate in the democratic process (within the bounds of the constitution) and to decide fundamental questions about our values. Justice Scalia did not believe that putting on the black robe meant taking on the mantle of the philosopher-king. While some have characterized him as something like an enemy of social progress, the reality is that he would have put up little opposition to democratic movements. Instead, he resisted the Court’s assumption of authority that rightly belongs to the electoral process and the nation’s statehouses. He rightly recognized that a doctrine of a living, evolving constitution was the catalyst for a process of reasoning that ultimately takes power from the people and concentrates it in the hands of elites. In his dissent in Obergefell, he noted that all of the justices on the court had attended law school at either Harvard or Yale, were either Catholic or Jewish (so no evangelicals or other protestants), and hailed from the two coasts. His point was simple. There is something wrong with the Court occupying the position of making law for the people, while simultaneously being so unrepresentative.

Justice Scalia’s death comes at a bad time, especially for reasons of life and religious liberty. The Hobby Lobby case ended as a 5-4 decision in favor of the company’s need for an accommodation to conscience and religious liberty in the face of the HHS mandate on contraception. Justice Scalia was one of the five. His absence raises serious questions about whether religious liberty petitioners can prevail in future cases. For example, the Little Sisters of the Poor have a case pending before the court. Religious liberty expert Douglas Laycock bluntly stated that the Little Sisters lost their case when Justice Scalia was found dead. We shall see. If the case were to conclude as a 4-4 tie, then the lower court ruling against the Little Sisters would seem to resolve the case against them (at least for the time being). Alternatively, their case could be assigned for a later re-argument. The legitimacy of the court depends upon a more solid resolution of religious liberty claims, ultimately, so the next appointment to the court will be critical.

At the same time, there is a major Texas abortion case (Whole Women’s Health) which revolves around the constitutionality of state laws requiring abortion clinics to meet the same health and safety standards to which outpatient surgical centers are held. Clinics are also required to employ only physicians with admitting privileges in nearby hospitals. That is another case that may well end up with a 4-4 deadlock without Justice Scalia. Because the lower court upheld the restrictions, that ruling would hold within the appellate circuit until some later resolution of the case by the Court or unless the case were assigned to re-argument.

Antonin Scalia fought for a conception of the Constitution and of the Supreme Court that became increasingly out of fashion during the twentieth century. Thanks to his intellectual strength and his power of expression, he defended his views and probably increased the influence of his judicial philosophy. His death creates crises both immediate and potentially long term. We have to pray that the next justice will bring as much wisdom and skill to the job as Justice Scalia did. More importantly, we need to keep praying for life and religious liberty.

Hunter Baker

Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. is the dean of arts and sciences and professor of political science at Union University. He is the author of three books (The End of Secularism, Political Thought: A Student's Guide, and The System Has a Soul). He is also a research fellow of the Ethics … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24